Content of the article: "How to help a struggling, problematic player?"
I'm a first time DM and we had our first session a few days ago. One of my players is exhibiting some very problematic behaviors. Most of the players, including this one, are almost completely new to the game.
During our online session 0 he seemed to really struggle with character creation. Leading up to it, he wanted to essentially copy another players character idea. This player had put a lot of prior thought and energy into creating his character before we even started talking character creation and really didn't want to be outshined in our 4 person party by another player playing basically the same person. There was a small argument but the problem-player gave in because the other player made it clear that he was upset.
Once we got to session 0, the player in question seemed extremely stuck. We tried to suggest ideas for classes for him but he rejected almost all of them and seemed extremely fixated on playing a "tanky" character despite not liking any of the tanky classes (besides the one his friend was playing). Eventually we got him to settle on a class and helped him to select his race and background. I then took him into a private voice chat to brainstorm roleplay ideas as I want to run an rp heavy game. He had a lot of trouble. No matter how many times I told him to focus on making personality traits, bonds, ideals, and flaws he was suck on thinking up a cool backstory (he was a werewolf hunter) and a few very shallow characteristics (kept saying his character was like particular "badass" movie characters). When we got to alignment he picked chaotic neutral, and I did my best to explain what that means. I also told him not to worry too much about alignment and to focus on giving his character personality and achievable goals. I reminded him that I had banned evil PCs (doesn't jive with this campaign) and specifically warned against playing a murder-hobo or anti-social character as his character seemed to be veering into edgelord territory. He was still kind of stumped but also seemed like he took in what I said so I told him to think more and have it ready by session 1.
His behavior in session 1 was honestly a shitshow. His character was extremely rude or outright aggressive to everyone he met including the other PCs. When they entered the first town, one of the player characters knocked on the door of a random house to ask for directions/info about the town. I played the peasant who answered the door as frightened by the adventurers and worried that they meant to harm her. Before the other characters could really get into talking to her to get her to open up, the problem PC pulled a weapon on her and threatened to kill her if she didn't "talk", like he's interrogating a captured enemy. This was just a nervous peasant woman standing in her own doorway. The other party members did get him to stop and calmed the woman down.
All of the in town interactions go this way, to the point that one of the players didn't get to rp at all because he felt like his character needed to babysit the other PC to keep him from hurting the townfolk. The problem-player treated almost every NPC he met with suspicion to the point of outright foolishness. Towards the end they met a trapped starved vampire and to everyone's shock the problem-player (a supernatural HUNTER) offers it his own blood with no real prompting at all. He requests to do a few more extremely foolish and impulsive actions. I, trying to avoid killing his character or having the entire campaign ruined, did ask few times "are you really completely sure you want to do that, it's not a good idea" when some of these impulsive moments came up. I know it was railroading but this is probably the only reason we are going to have a session 2, had he just gotten to do whatever I don't see how the story could have continued to anything but a TPK.
The thing was, the whole time he seemed genuinely disappointed when NPC's reacted negatively to his behavior or when the other PC's called his character an asshole. Afterwards he messaged me saying that he was disappointed that he didn't get to roll to see if the stuff he was doing worked. I was confused and told him that most of the time he wasn't doing anything that required a roll, most of his actions succeeded in producing the logical desired outcome. He behaved in an extremely abrasive manner to skittish commoners, of course they didn't want to talk to him. He also never really made it clear what he was intending to do, his character just seemed to be behaving erratically. He said he thought he was playing to his chaotic neutral character by "being nice sometimes, and mean sometimes". I asked him when he thought his character was nice and he cited the vampire encounter as an act of kindness and noted that he never actually attacked anyone. He seemed to be under the impression that the main utility of talking to NPCs was "to get answers" and he should be able to roll for whatever to see if he gets them to give him information. I explained that I would classify most of his behavior as cruel and verging on chaotic evil. I encouraged him to think about what he's doing, listen to what I describe, and to treat NPCs like normal people. I told him that if he thinks his character should be suspicious he can ask to roll Insight, and that generally if he thinks he wants to do something that requires a roll he can ask (though I may say no).
We ended up talking on the phone and he seemed to reach the conclusion that he actually wanted to play a more stealthy character because he wanted to do rogue-like rp things so I'm letting him switch his class and retconning a lot of his behavior in the first session. He expressed that he enjoyed the thrill of rolling dice so I suggested that I could pepper in opportunities for his character to utilize his skills and perhaps even incorporate some skill challenges at some point. He also googled "chaotic neutral" while talking to me and discovered the concept of chaotic stupid on his own, which was pretty funny.
While I feel like talking to him helped, I'm still not sure that he's grasped why his actions were disruptive and I'm concerned that the issues will continue. My impression is now that he's really really struggling to imagine a personality for his character so he's taking the words Chaotic Neutral extremely literally and attempting (and failing miserably) to mimic movie characters. I'm planning on checking in on him before next session to see if he's progressed in thinking about the character's personality/behavior but I was wondering if any more experienced DMs might have advice on how to help him and what to do if the problems continue. Kicking him out isn't something I'm willing to to do or an option, he's a good guy and we're all friends so that would just mean that we wouldn't play at all. I don't think he means to be an ass, I want to help him do better to we can all have fun.
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